Eric_W's Reviews > Bloody Winter

Bloody Winter by John M. Waters
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Dec 17, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: nautical-non-fiction

Convoy duty on the North Atlantic during WIN II was hazardous duty. During six years of fighting, 2,828 merchant ships were sunk killing 45,000 mariners. This was more than in all the naval battles of the previous 500 years combined. John Waters writes of several truly difficult crossings during the winter of 1942-43 in Bloody Winter . That season was the turning point in the war when gains exceeded loses and escorts began to make headway against the seemingly unending stream of German submarines.

Standing watch on a merchant or escort ship was not comfortable during the winter North Atlantic. High seas would break over the bows periodically soaking those manning the 3" or 5" guns; stokers in the black gang suffered 11 DE heat expecting the terrifying crash of a torpedo any minute. Only the ASDIC operator could be reasonably comfortable inside, but he had to remain extremely vigilant for the slightly sound of the return ping off a submarine
hull.

Those on the bridge needed to watch constantly for other ships in the convoy as zigzagging was essential and course changes might occur as often as every 30 seconds in an effort to confuse the U boats. Collisions occurred; indeed several German submarines even smashed into each other with the. loss of most hands while setting up for a torpedo shot. .

Sailors rarely undressed, exhaustedly falling into their bunks in sodden clothes, sleeping until the next watch, their clothes now stiff and salt-encrusted. The next change of clothes and shower would not come until they reached port. Life-jackets were never out of reach, eating was often difficult, especially in destroyers that might roll up to 40E, soup was impossible, cold sandwiches standard fare.
Life was not without its humorous moments. "The British were very clever at the use of Biblical references in their signals, and a short Biblical citation often conveyed the thought better than several paragraphs of text. One British destroyer, sent astern for the third consecutive day after the same straggler, was informed as usual by the straggler, 'Am making best possible speed.' The thoroughly fed up destroyer skipper signaled 'Hebrews 13:8'. The merchant skipper, opening to his Bible to the chapter and verse, read, 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.'"
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message 1: by Conrad (new)

Conrad My wife and I were on our way to the Tower of London a few months ago and happened upon the British Merchant Marine memorial. We walked past a colonnaded front and around a corner, and suddenly there were half a dozen walls covered, just covered with inscribed names, around twice as many as on the Vietnam Memorial. I couldn't help sobbing after taking a look around for half an hour - it was so sudden, just turning a corner in this city and being confronted with a trajectory of mass death that you just don't always think about anymore. Every single one of those people died cold.


Eric_W Conrad wrote: "My wife and I were on our way to the Tower of London a few months ago and happened upon the British Merchant Marine memorial. We walked past a colonnaded front and around a corner, and suddenly the..."

The merchant mariners are the unsung heroes of the war. In the US, when they died they didn't even qualify for death benefits as did those in the armed services. Really a tragedy.


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